MISSOULA – A fire late Thursday destroyed the long-shuttered Stimson Lumber Co. plywood mill in Libby, but no injuries were reported, authorities said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“At this point, all we know is that everything in that building went up,” Lincoln County Sheriff Daryl Anderson said. “That whole building, and everything connected to that building, burned right to the ground.”
Anderson said so many spectators turned out on the streets that emergency crews and firetrucks had some trouble getting through traffic. Libby, in northwest Montana, has about 2,700 residents.
“It looked like somebody dropped an atomic bomb on the place,” Anderson told the Missoulian. “When the fire took off, that plume just rose up and hung there like a mushroom cloud. It lit up everything. I bet two-thirds of the town of Libby was down there watching.”
Anderson called the blaze a “blessing in some ways.” He said the plant, which was abandoned several years ago, had become an “unsafe” party spot and officials had been unsure what to do with it.
“That old plant has been a real pain in the neck, to be honest,” he said.
The Missoulian reported that Stimson abandoned the plant several years ago.
The fire was reported to the Lincoln County Rural Fire Department about 9 p.m. Thursday.
Tar on the roof and creosote used as a preservative in supporting timbers added fuel to the fire, Anderson said.
Local firefighters, reinforced from area towns and rural districts, were forced to back off “and pretty much spend their time protecting the nearby houses,” Anderson said. “They just had to watch it and protect the buildings that weren’t burning.”
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